Most days I get up around sunrise. The house is quiet, the sky is pale, the Carolina wrens are singing. And the summer air is cool, or at least cooler than it will be for the rest of the day. I make coffee, get the paper, and sit down at the kitchen table to read the news.
For the past couple of weeks, the next sound I've heard is that of my wife on the phone, speaking Spanish. She's talking to a husband in Texas or a brother in Michigan or a mother in Alabama. She's talking to them about their wife, their sister, their daughter.
My wife is an attorney who handles a lot of immigration cases, and lately there has been a flood of women seeking her help. It's a little-known fact that for the past few weeks, the U.S. government has been sending a number of Hispanic women who are seeking asylum in this country to the federal detention facility in Mason, Tennessee. There are around 240 of them there now, almost all of them from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Most of them are fleeing a murder epidemic against women that's so pronounced it's gotten its own moniker: femicide — murdering females because of their gender. They are victims of a machismo society that puts women on a pedestal but has little respect for them as individuals, and sees them as disposable. Years of civil wars and government corruption make the murders easy to get away with, since reporting a crime often results in the revenge murder of the accuser.
Less than 2 percent of femicides were even investigated in Honduras and Guatemala last year. Men are literally getting away with murder by the hundreds. Guatemalan human rights groups cite 731 women murdered in that country in 2012. It's as bad in Honduras, and even worse in El Salvador. I suggest you google "femicide in Central America" and be prepared to be shocked.
And so the women flee, walking and hopping trains thousands of miles across Mexico to the U.S. border, where they are stopped and sent to prison in Mason. They are warehoused, sometimes for months. And unless they can find an attorney to help them and someone to help them pay for it — usually, someone in their family already in the U.S. — they are almost always quietly sent back to their home countries.
The politican furor over "illegal immigrants" in the U.S. has made their plight doubly difficult. No politician, from President Obama on down, wants to be seen as "soft on immigration," these days. But these women are refugees, fleeing for their lives. We need to get beyond politics and find our humanity. We're better than this.
Or we should be.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced last week that the I-55 "old bridge" across the Mississippi would be closed for nine months, beginning in 2017, so that the department could build new exit and entrance ramps. This is a really horrible idea, with potentially disastrous economic, public safety, and even national security ramifications ...